Is Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT) a Viable Alternative to the Utility Patent for the Protection and Promotion of Innovation in Genetically Engineered Agricultural Seeds?
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Patent protected genetically engineered (GE) agricultural seeds allow farmers to increase the quality and yield of some of the worlds most important food crops. The ability of GE seed firms to use this technology to capture value and promote innovation may be compromised by patent regimes that are not designed to prevent the misappropriation of self-replicating, biologically-based inventions. Unlike patents, genetic use restriction technology (GURT) provides a primarily self-contained technological method of intellectual property (IP) protection effective in weak IP environments. Currently, GURT is subject to an international commercialization moratorium because of concerns over potential negative economic, environmental, health and social consequences of its use. This thesis investigates whether GURT is a viable alternative to the utility patent to promote and protect innovation in GE agricultural seeds. It does so by comparing the viability of these two IP protection paradigms through an analysis of the interconnections among five viability criteria: global food security; the environment (biosecurity and biodiversity); economic well being (industry and farmers); national and international policy and regulation; and consumer acceptance. The results indicate that GURT technology offers greater overall IP protection for GE seeds than the utility patents alone. At the same time, GURT would improve global food security while limiting the unwanted spread of artificially introduced genes. However, the capacity for this technology to promote innovation and to affect biodiversity is questionable. Ultimately, farmers in the developed world would see little short term benefit from GURT, while developing world farmers would be subject to greater GE seed firm control over their livelihoods. Ethics-based resistance to GURT could be a viability and consumer acceptance wild card. In the public sector, GURT commercialization and its endless technological monopoly would require policy and regulatory changes to reinvigorate the societal bargain that has been integral to the success of the patent system. The conclusion of this thesis is that GURT GE seeds do not currently present a viable alternative to non-GURT patented GE seeds for the promotion and protection of innovation in this technology.